Welcome to the Inconvenienced Blog. This is a Comedy and Gaming Culture Site all rolled into one. Alongside humorous articles, we'll also be be giving our thoughts on games, and the gaming industry as a whole.

Hope you stick around and get to know the place.

29 November 2007

Quick rant on Prickly City

Today's point of discussion
Recently Scott Santis has been pissed off at the journalism site huffingtonpost.com because it employs its bloggers without pay. Well, I've got news for you, Scott. Here are a list of other things on the internet that usually have no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

  • Writing this blog (or most blogs)

  • Posting videos on YouTube, or any video site except MoneyTube (whose legality is debatable)

  • Writing an open-source project on sourceforge.net

  • Writing a whole novel on fanfiction.net

  • Editing together retarded yet somehow funny pictures on icanhascheezburger.com

  • Posting the result of 2 days in Garry's Mod and 72 hours in Photoshop

  • Writing a game guide on gamefaqs.com

  • Making a comic that has the exact same joke 4 days in a row

Of course, if the concept of not being paid for something is daunting to you, you can of course stop DOING whatever it is you're doing.

19 November 2007

Game of the Year on Inconvenienced

Well, it's easy to say that there's been a lot going on this year in terms of great games. Which is certainly more than can be said for last year. Reviewers said "Gears of War?" and we realized that no one had made anything better.

Now we have a whole slew of things to consider. We have Team Fortress 2, Crysis, BioShock, Halo 3, Portal, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, Super Mario Galaxy, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero III, Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament III, Ratchet and Clank Future...the list goes on. And amazingly enough, in that list alone, we have FIVE GAMES that aren't sequels! FIVE!!! That's 38%!

But as we all know, Game of the Year can't be about statistics. We don't simply take the game with the highest numerical rating and slap on the medal. The game has to break boundaries, be really fun, and we need to know that we'll remember it next year. (speaking of which, last year's GOTY is now on PC...)

Many of you will know me for being the obsessive Half-Life fan, but in the face of the sheer number of high-quality games that have come out this year, even I have to go into some deep consideration.

2007 has been a great year for games, and so my supreme authority deems the game twenty lines down to be the undisputable game of the year.

Why are we fighting? Why do we have to always pick one over the other? Do we really care if a game on a system that we don't even OWN gets worse reviews than another one? Game of the Year was only established to convince people what games to buy. But it has mutated into something that at this point, I don't like.

It's now a contest of fanboyism, a debate of minute details and things that can be considered so objective that in any other field they would be ignored.

Well, consider this, fanboys. Consider the fact that in the end it comes down to preference, and even the most well-learned psychologist/game critic won't be able to tell why there are people who liked Clive Barker's Jericho. And there's no reason we should make fun of them either. If they like the game, let's not try to convince them that their opinion is wrong. Let's not make the world think we're all game designers and take an in-depth look at the mechanics and decide whether it is allowable for someone to enjoy the game. Let's let them have fun.

The fact is, I don't want one game to be Game of the Year this year. Whereas often we are looking for innovations beyond any other, such as in that ever-distant spectacle, SPORE, I think that what 2007 turned out is pretty damn good. Let me demonstrate...

Team Fortress 2 showed us that Nintendo's cartoony styles could actually work harmoniously with one of the gorier games to come out this year, and remains the one online multiplayer game that anyone can pick up and play.
Crysis pushed boundaries for graphics, in games and even in the general CGI world. It also gave us the perfect way to approach a situation in many different ways. We have no doubt it'll remain the benchmark of choice for overclockers.
BioShock told us a story that seems completely uninfluenced by any of the traditional plotlines we've seen. It's not an alien invasion, a demon taking over the world...BioShock was something else entirely.
Halo 3 finished a wide-stretching storyline, and remains one of the best twitch-multiplayer games around. It also made an enormous leap in machinima with the introduction of Saved Films and the Forge.
Portal took things so much farther than Digipen's original creation. All the incredible writing from Psychonauts has visibly carried over into a solid game mechanic that works in ways even the developers can't imagine. It remains the only game that reviewer Yahtzee Croshaw has no criticism for.
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 finally took the Half-Life story somewhere. It reminded us that whereas all acting in movies is starting to look like Keanu Reeves, it's still possible for a game to bring a tear to your eye.
Super Mario Galaxy was more than a "flashback to the platforming era". It EXPANDED on the formula platformer. The gravity flipping and great, while not excessive, use of the wiimote, made this game definitely worthy of the long-standing Mario name.
Assassin's Creed brought Parkour to video games, and provides us with one of the most massive, GTA-style freeroaming games to come out all year.
Mass Effect, like KOTOR, gives you characters you will care about, worlds that will touch your eye, and a story that is truly unforgettable.
Guitar Hero III became the second video game to have a South Park episode based around it, and reminds us all of why we love music.
Call of Duty 4, rather than creating a new gimmick for the FPS genre, polishes the game that it knows so well to a mirror sheen. And it sent a powerful message to EA: WORLD WAR 2 IS OVER. GET WITH IT.
Unreal Tournament III provided a fantastic engine for BioShock, Mass Effect, and many other games to come, and is the first console game to attempt to bring mods from the PC to the consoles. Besides that, multiplayer is undeniably fun and varied.
Ratchet and Clank Future is finally one of the best PS3-exclusive titles, and combines the fun platforming of Mario with the also-fun gunning of Unreal. Except, in a manner of speaking...these guns are bigger.

We don't need a game of the year. As Christmas approaches, let us move our words from hateful fanboying (Altair would SO beat Master Chief in a fight) to mutual love of all games. (What if Altair taught Master Chief to be an assassin?)

Even if that includes Jericho.

12 November 2007

Crisis: Way too Early review

NOTE: Crisis is a game made by a hippy in Southeast Malasia. Thus it's not surprising that you've never heard of it. It definitely has nothing to do with Crysis. It would not make sense for me to be playing the game "Crysis", even though it may or may not be on some piracy sites already.

So not much has changed from the Crisis demo; you still jump out of a plane with a less than adequate introduction and really choppy framerates. I was running the game in DirectX 9 on low settings until NVidia has the good sense to write some real drivers. After the well-known demo, you head further and further into lonely-ville as more and more of your squadmates are killed off by the annoying blue ice alien thing.

I had a lot of fun tossing barrels and broken pieces of buildings at enemies in the demo level using Ultimate Strength, but soon enough the game starts to discourage this. First off, there are exactly one million freaking south koreans (no, not North Koreans, you're thinking of Crysis, and I am definitely not talking about Crysis.) and often you'll be fighting them at a really long range. Furthermore, there will be TWO million South Koreans if you have the sheer lunacy to get seen by someone and let them set off a flare.

Furthermore, there are one too many vehicles than one would like in a Long Cry-esque game. Soon enough you will be pitted against a tank without any helping hints as to how the fuck you're supposed to destroy it. One of them I managed to lure near a gas station, then tear a hole in both its hull and the lurking ozone later. The other, which thankfully seemed to have its turret stuck in a hole in the wall, I left alone for some 15 minutes before finally finding a stack of missile launchers. I used about two launchers (amounting to 6 rockets) before the thing blew up. This sort of brings up the question, what the hell would I do if I had missed with some of these, or blown up the gas station early? I'm not sure if Critek has completely thought that one through.

This extends to helicopters as well. In one section I was using Speed to go down this very long river to an extraction point. I would be using a boat, but unlike boats, my FiberSuit doesn't blow into a million pieces when a bullet larger than a splinter hits it. I kept feeling like the game was supposed to give me something to take these things down, but I ended up putting up with the thing the whole 2 miles or so. Afterwards, the impending boss battle felt comparatively easy.

Let me make this clear; if recent FPS's have felt easy for you, take a look at Crisis. You're going to have enemies all around you and not much cover. In my opinion, Kojima should have given up the tagline "No place to hide" to Critek. You'll need to use the suit abilities to survive, but beyond that you'll need to have some damn good aim, and as hard as it is, a damn good framerate.

7 November 2007

Conundrum: Chapter 2.

The Wildcat's latest chapter in his Conundrum fanfiction of Half Life.

Smoke created a black haze in the vacant hallway. The scent of blood was but a ghost in the thick air. Abandoned offices lined the corridor. Emergency lamps cast yellow light into the darkness.

At twelve feet in height, the creature could only traverse the tiny human structures in a burdened crouch. His thick chitin exoskeleton scraped the ceiling tiles and exposed the electrical conduits above. He occasionally swatted his broad claws against an office door, more for amusement then any true purpose.

His canine head shifted only slightly with each step. Green twinkles flickered from his pupils as they adjusted for the power-drained darkness. His feral snout whiffed the air in search of new prey.

The remains that lay deeper in the facility were bitter. It was as if decay had soured the meat. But the "scientists" had seemed rotten from the moment of the kill. Perhaps they were some subspecies that possessed particularly sickly, stringy meat.

Then again, the creature may have merely imagined the dislike of the scientist's flesh due to the ease with which he had dispatched them. Even the lowliest prey could offer a challenge when faced with certain death. Yet, these humans had been terribly frail.

It was as though they did not wish to live. Some of them had practically waited for the end. The security teams had been armed with automatic weapons and explosives, but they rarely used them until their death was imminent.

The creature grunted with disgust. He hoped to find suitable prey outside. Nevertheless, the humans had been a pleasure to kill. After all, they had kept the beast in a pin and...

Actually, the creature could not remember what the humans had done to him. He blamed them for pains he could not hope to remember. At the first chance to escape, he had gladly torn his victims to shreds.

He ransacked their laboratories and pillaged anything of interest. It was a minimal restitution for his forgotten torments.

He had taken something called a "cloaking field generator". Somehow, he knew that the device had value, but also needed charging. A second lab had yielded two small green balls. The soft, moist orbs seemed useless. If not for the level of security, he would have shown no interest.

The creature growled with frustration. Each floor was a maze of tunnels, hallways, and monitoring rooms. Of six explosive charges he had taken from a nearly empty weapon locker, he had used five for "short cuts".

A muffled sound caught the creature's ears. He sniffed the smoke and snorted. He had almost missed the bitter human scent amid the smoke. They were close, but not in his corridor.

He hammered an office door and pushed through the frame. After tossing a desk aside, he kicked the opposite wall. The concrete cracked and crumbling pieces trickled to the floor.

Both claws pierced the damaged surface. He pried his claws free and placed a final thunderous kick. The wall fractured, allowing the beast to bash through the new opening.

Minus the scorch marks and battle damage of his rampage, the hall seemed sterile. Florescent lights hummed incessantly. Their sickly white glow covered everything. Everything, that is, except the darkened elevator at the end of the corridor.

As twin metal doors sealed the opening, the creature detected the faint scent of fresh air. Instinctively, he knew that night had fallen.

He lurched down the corridor and covered the distance in a few quick strides. With two sharp jabs, he crumpled the metal doors. Their inner workings groaned and snapped under the pressure.

The creature buried his claws in the weakened seal. Twisted steel tore out of its track. He tossed the crumpled hulk aside and kicked the remaining components into the lightless shaft.

Below, dozens of floor entrances counted the depth of the pit. Above, the elevator car chimed its arrival at the first floor.

After he considered his options, the creature groped his bandoleer for the final explosive charge. The blast ripped the lift apart and fragments cascaded down the shaft. Through the thinning soot and concrete dust, the gapping hole in the first floor wall became visible.

Without hesitation, the creature hurtled himself into the void. His claws snagged the opposite wall. In seconds, he scaled the shaft and hefted himself into the opening.

The first floor was different from the other levels. It stood twice the width of the other hallways. Furniture such as waiting room chairs and coffee tables decorated the corridor. Ornamental wallpaper with matching molding ran the length.

An open lobby lay at the end of the hall. Office entrances were infrequent and randomly spaced. The back of a large reception desk guarded the lobby. Of all the adornment, the windowed wall on the other side of the lobby most interested the creature.

Several stray bullets scratched his boney armor. His prey then quickly fled. Two of the humans sought shelter in an open office. The third sprinted for the lobby. Soured odors filled the creature's nostrils. He would not devour them, but he would enjoy the taste of retribution.

Crunching glass and crumbling acoustic tiles dirtied the floor behind him. Thundering feet crushed the delicate furniture.

The first prey dove over the reception desk only to reappear and fire an assault shotgun. The weapon discharged as it spiraled over the desktop.

Shock and terror passed over the pale man's face as he felt of the spurting stump that had been his shoulder. The claws were a blur. Impact threw the body into the plate glass wall. The creature wiped his claws on the reception desk with a wince at the soured odor.

Cowering in their office, the two remaining men checked their automatic rifles. One human hid behind an oak desk. The other dared to peer out of the doorframe.

"Okay... he's out," the leader said into a shoulder-mounted radio. "We'll give him some convincing shakes with our grenades and then point him away from CRI."

As soon as the leader was in the hall, the second man stood and readied his weapon. The wall fractured behind him. A smattering of gore erupted beneath the creature's foot. The remains jerked only slightly and then stilled.

"He came back for us!"

The man raced through the lobby and leapt over his other mutilated accomplice. He crossed the courtyard before stealing a glimpse back and lobbing a contact grenade.

Uncertain of the blast's success, the man ran around the nearest building and began to follow a concrete perimeter wall. A jeep pulled into his path and two men exited. A third readied the mounted 50-caliber machine gun.

"Where is he?"

"Headed this way. Grenades ready."

In silence, the small security team waited. Every whistle of the wind warranted scrutiny. Any groan or squeak from the neighboring buildings required cautious observation.

Pained cries fell beneath the crushing blow. The mounted gun fired a single powerful stream before its action shattered over the gnarled body.

A volley of contact grenades struck the vehicle and filled the night sky with fire. Beyond the flames, the creature watched his remaining prey.

Two quick rebounds from the sides of buildings brought him down atop a hapless victim. He pummeled the snapping body into several chunks and then dove away from twin grenade explosions.

The fireball ruptured the perimeter wall. Chunks of concrete mixed with a cloud of sand veiled the predator. Realizing their weakness, the humans escaped in opposite directions.

One of the men ran between buildings and hid behind a storage crate. The creature leapt to the nearest rooftop in a single effortless bound. His eyes appeared to glow green in the miniscule light of the night. His prey had become too easy. He was sickened by their vulnerability.

Angry with his victims and their pitiful actions, the beast hopped down beside the crate and dragged the human out by his leg. The man tried to fire his puny automatic rifle, but the bullets bounced harmlessly off the heavy exoskeleton.

The creature gripped the man by his chest and crushed his ribcage. He then ripped the corpse in two. With a few strong sniffs, he detected the last prey. It was an easy, though unpleasant scent to follow.

He crawled back to the rooftop and searched for his victim. The grenade struck with a delayed thump. Fire and shrapnel collapsed the ceiling.

The man turned to run only to have the creature pound to the ground in front of him. In a panic, the man fired another grenade. His shot missed wide and obliterated the wall of a darkened warehouse.

The beast's jaws clamped shut on the man's head. A burst of blood and tissue spewed from the dead man as he fell.

Spitting and gagging, the predator groaned with disgust. He stomped on the corpse once for pleasure and then returned to the parameter wall.

In the twinkling light of several small fires, the elongated snout slipped through the opening and sniffed the desert breeze.

"I smell... fresh meat."

The creature darted into the open wilderness. After a few bounding steps, he summoned his great strength and launched into a high arc over the dessert. He sailed above the white sand dunes in silence.

His legs burned as he thumped into the sand. He hesitated long enough to survey the environment. Before him arose a city skyline.

The creature faced the nearest building and leapt into the sky a second time. He thought odd of the city as he approached. It was calm and quiet. Perhaps his prey had conquered the city as he had conquered the laboratories.

Bricks cracked and fell into the street below when the creature slammed onto the side of the building. His weight would have easily carried him through the wall were it not for his own animal prowess.

With a few strong sniffs, he found the scents of many humans. They were pungent, more so then the scientists. But most of the meat smelled fresh, not bitter as his other encounters.

He crawled to the building's rooftop. He moved silently among the buildings. With short jumps, he crossed alleys and streets.

An occasional pause to observe the neighborhood presented only more of the human buildings and their fragile occupants. Had the creature not stalled to double check his own findings, he would have missed the black figure nearly three blocks away.

The silhouette appeared for but a moment above the rooftops before he dropped out of view. He was human, but not a scientist or guard. No flesh was visible. His odor was muted, almost non-existent.

At last, the creature had found his quarry. He dropped into the nearest alley and attempted to scent the man. He followed the dingy pathway with increased stealth.

Near the base of a six-story building, the fading smell mingled with that of a normal human. The creature pulled his weight onto the building's face and scaled the wall with barely a sound.

He stepped onto the rooftop with caution. A human clad in a business suit leaned over the farthest ledge of the roof. The man was watching something down the street. Though he clutched a handgun in his fist, the human seemed unaware of the beast.

"Do not be afraid human. You are too weak to be my prey. But did a human in some sort of body suit pass near here. His scent was obscured, not as rank as yours."

In a panic, the man began to fire wildly at the creature. His bullets harmlessly struck a taller building next-door. Barely two spare shots ricocheted off the creature's chitin.

"That was a mistake."

Into a massive fist, the gun disappeared. An unfired round exploded within the collapsing magazine. The useless chunk of metal cracked to the gravel of the roof.

His fear transparent, the man scurried through an access hatch and slammed the cover. Mildly amused, the creature hurtled across the street in pursuit of his prey.

A strange wind crossed the beast's nostrils. "Something is not right."

It was not his prey. He had sensed something more distant, across the city. The creature dismissed the matter, as he sensed no danger to himself. His prey was close.

High-pitched human screams directed his attention. He sped his pace, careful to retain his stealth.

A double blast broke the night air. He was close. The conflict ahead assured him that his prey was waiting.

I'm making a note here; huge success.

Just so you know, this is, hopefully, the first in a series of reviews of the games contained in The Orange Box (sans Half-Life 2 and Episode 1). Tune in for the (hopefully) weekly installments so you can see how I more than likely fortified your opinion on how you made the right decision in purchasing this product so you can go and brag to your friends about how much more kick ass it is in comparison to Halo 3 and how they totally shouldn't have spent their money on it when they could have bought the almighty Orange Box. Then they'll walk away from you hesistantly because they don't know you and you don't actually have any friends.

First in the line up is the massively anticipated and highly acclaimed Portal, so named for the absolutely bleeding obvious. If you somehow missed the hype for this game because you were too busy being socially outgoing or masturbating to Alyx/your favorite anime show pornography, then please zip up your damn pants long enough for me to choke out a brief plot summary. Portal documents the altogether uneventful yet entertaining adventure of your character, Chell, through the testing grounds of the seemingly abandoned corridors of Aperture Science, Inc. whilst being accosted by a dead-pan mechanical voice with the occasional hint of attitude, all of which takes place in the Half-Life universe. You also get to use a portal creation device. Hence "Portal." That's all I can really say without spoiling anything important or cool. There's some nifty back story that you can find if you actually dig around a bit; none of it's plot critical, but all of it is pretty hilarious, so I recommend you do a little searching, if only for the enrichment of the thing (if any of you can tell me about the relevance of shower curtains to this game, I'll give you a cookie laced with cocaine). Something that you might not notice so much in-game but will look back on fondly is the humor; to be short, it's absolutely hilarious. I've almost never been so amused by well-delivered lines in a video game. If you've read my previous article, you'd know my stance on well written and developed scripts, and Portal manages to tell a good story whilst inciting fits of girlish giggling the entire way.

And, of course, the companion cube. I won't spoil it, but when Katana once said that it has more character development than Master Chief, he wasn't just being the elitist bag of console-hating rage that we've all come to know and love.

To get to the meat of the matter, the gameplay just happens to be the moist, artery-clogging delicious center of the game, to which the story is merely the ambrosial, heart stopping butter-cream icing. Naturally, as with any game except Final Fantasy or Sudoku, the gameplay is, in the end, the only thing that actually matters. Seasoning is nice, but what you really want is the big, juicy steak that it covers. And, just like steaks, there are some games that try to cover up a shitty slice of beef with lots of frills and spices that, while making the meat a tad more palatable, simply cannot cover up an annoyingly bad base product (read: Every MMO ever made). Portal just happens to be a prime cut ripped straight off of a living pure-bred steer, whose blood and remaining body parts were then sacrificed to the gods so that they might bless this Holy Grail of gaming genius. And then some extra shit was set on fire just for good measure.

Ok, I exaggerated. The steer was actually sacrificed to the developers over the course of several hearty, delicious meals. However, I was not exaggerating in that some extra shit WAS set on fire, but that was in an unrelated office party incident and involved an excess of acholic beverages, matches, and "double-dog dare you"s.

Moving on, Portal has incredible gameplay and some genuinely challenging puzzles (holy shit!) thanks to it's innovative use of the portal system. You do have to give Portal a great deal of credit in that it's the first came to use portals in a competent, enjoyable fashion (I'm looking at YOU, Prey). However, I do have SOME issues with it. Mostly, it's linear. INCREDIBLY linear. Any given puzzle in the game has, on average, 1.2 ways to solve it (the .2 meaning that there are a few puzzles in the game that can be solved in two ways, the second of which is usually, weird, convoluted, and/or not so fun). I can understand the need for linearity in a puzzle game, but, considering how short Portal is, they could have at least given us a little extra something; and no, the challenges don't count. Basically, once you finish the game, you've finished the game. For good. You can't really even come back and play it later because you'll remember how to solve all the puzzles and it's no longer the challenging, new adventure that is was when you first slid it into your disc drive. It turns becomes a fairly droll repetition of previous, subconsciously memorized movements and actions with little variation from the original. Other than the linearity, though, I actually have very few complaints. Some of the puzzles were somewhat vague as to the next step, and the final "puzzle" isn't really challenging at all, but those are overall pretty minor and didn't much affect my playing experience. Just that damn linear element.

Bluntly, this game was really overhyped. And still is, for that matter. I can understand where all of it came from ("Game with Portals isn't too Warped!", "Reporter Reports that Portal doesn't Fucking Suck Shit!"), but sometimes we just need to realize that games don't have to stay overhyped after release. It doesn't deserve all of the high praise and cult-like worshippers that it gains. Obviously it deserves some acclaim and maybe a loony fanatic or two, but nothing like the hoards of people screaming "Pure genius!" that it currently gets.

Don't get me wrong; Portal is a spectacularly good time. It really, really is. But it's just not perfect. Or long.

Just like sex with your mother.

5 November 2007

To Games: Stop Wasting our Time

I realize I'm quite an addict when it comes to making up completely misleading titles so let me recompensate by writing something that no doubt many of you people will agree with, and possibly call to arms an uprising against responsible companies, were it not that many of us don't even know where they are.

See, my frustration is not with how games cause us to look at our watch and exclaim "It is 3 in the morning." It's more that there's so much time in games where we can't do anything. Let me try to make some explanation of this. In the recent Medal of Honor Airborne, you are forced to watch the EA logo and "opening"...thing...of the main menu. You must then click Continue Campaign whereas you must watch a long 3D briefing, something which you have no doubt seen before, and doesn't help since most of us can improvise our own attack plan once we've hit the ground.

Conversely, I have recently been playing Grim Fandango, whereas when you hit the shortcut for the game, a little window pops up offering to take you DIRECTLY TO your last save game. No menu, not much loading, and before you know it you're Manny, looking around cluelessly for a bottle in which to store some Coffin Shooters.

I could go into a lengthy analysis of what, specifically, people should be doing to fix all this, but this is not some psychiatric interactive entertainment analysis: It's simple, the longer the time between you hitting the shortcut and you being actually IN the game, the WORSE.

It goes beyond this too, however. During the game, keep in mind that some people are going to play it over and over again, having absolutely nothing better to do and apparently believing that whole bit about a secret level hidden behind a blast door. First, make all cutscenes skippable. Besides the fact that your writing and voice actors are horrible, consider that someone has ALREADY SEEN THEM. Half-Life 2 becomes a prime culprit of this, because in reality it would be really awkward to be able to skip a cutscene in Episode 2. What I liked was those bits in Half-Life 1, where a scientist would start talking for the plot-interested player, while the speedrunner would wave goodbye and continue bunny-hopping away.

But I'm not going to limit this to just cutscenes. There are even short, 0.3 second segments in games that will annoy me in the same way. Instead of forcing a "jump over barrier" animation that removes control of my character, why not just let me JUMP it? I realize people are trying to move from cutscenes to always-first-person in an attempt to immerse the player, but this really fails when suddenly you're no longer "playing as" mr.shootspeople and just "watching through the eyes of" mr.shootspeople. But would you kindly agree...it DID make some sense in Bioshock. This is also apparent in games where your character getting hit requires you to recoil back and such, unable to control your movement. (Lost Planet is the prime suspect and thus has been sentenced to 4 days of constant minigunning)

I think Resident Evil 4 was one of the first to help counteract this by introducing a level of interacivity even in those awesome cutscenes. Those seem to be pretty mandatory for many games now, but I feel like as long as they're properly executed, they're just there to make the game a bit more fun. The obvious solution for anything removing control by the player is by allowing the player to interrupt things. I hate any game that doesn't let you stop reloading your gun in order to whip out a pistol and cap the monster that popped out at you.

3 November 2007

The British Gaming Industry in the '70s and '80s.

First off, apologies to Sum0 for not posting this sooner. In my defence last night I was very tired and didn't get round to doing the biz. Here it is now.

Oh, and the captions of the pictures are done by me. I'm telling you this so as not to disgrace Sum0.

I would.

1984 - Elite. 1991 – Lemmings. 1996 - Tomb Raider. 1997 - GoldenEye. 2004 - Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While the US and Japanese industries hog the limelight, and European developers are responsible for some of the most innovative recent games, the British games industry has worked busily in the background for nigh-on three decades. In 2004, the British games industry recorded sales in excess of £2 billion, making the UK the biggest market in Europe and the third biggest in the world after the US and Japan.

It all goes back to November 29th, 1972, when Pong, the first widely popular video game came out. Pong, however, was developed by the then fledgling American company Atari. Though it made it to British shores (my parents have photographs to prove it), back then the British games industry was non-existent.

The 1970s

For the next ten years the video game industry established itself, dominated by Japanese and American developers and companies: a new breed of geeks, working on university mainframes, pushed the boundaries of games design with text-based adventure games like Adventure (1976) and Zork (1979); giants like Namco and Nintendo established themselves in the arcades with games like Space Invaders (1978) and Donkey Kong (1981); and in 1977 Atari established the home console market with their seminal Atari 2600.

One of the first wholly British games to be created was MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon, created by two students at the University of Essex in 1978. 19-year old Roy Trubshaw wrote the first version of the game on the university’s PDP-10 mainframe. MUD, inspired by text adventure games (like the prototype versions of Zork, at that time still in development) was originally a series of interconnected rooms through which multiple players could move around, explore, and chat to each other.

While Trubshaw concentrated on the technical and programming side of things, the planning of rooms and puzzles – the actual game design – was taken up by his friend, 18-year old Richard Bartle, who describes the writing of MUD as a “team effort”. When Trubshaw left university, Bartle remained and worked on polishing Trubshaw’s code into a finished game: adding a points system, monsters to fight, and the game’s ultimate goal of reaching Wizard status: giving players all-powerful, meta-game admin abilities.

MUD, perhaps the first multiplayer game with a persistent world, became phenomenally popular. Initially just played by students at Essex, the game was eventually opened up to players across Britain using then-new modems, as long as they logged in at the off-peak times of 2am-6am. Even with those unsocial hours, MUD was always full to capacity. A cross-Atlantic link to ArpaNet (the predecessor of the internet) allowed American players to join in too. Over time MUD evolved into MUD2, which is still going strong today, almost 30 years later. MUD’s influence can be felt in today’s Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft, which despite their 3D graphics still owe a debt to the work of a pair of British university students.

The 1980s
Despite the success of MUD, it was limited to a fraction of computer science students and a few hobbyists. Video games had yet to reach the general public.

Enter Sir Clive Sinclair. Bespectacled, bearded; invariably described as a “boffin” by the British press; revered and ridiculed in equal measure. His grandfather a naval architect and his father an engineer, Sinclair was born for the electronics industry. After a few years selling electronics kits and writing a book on transistors, Sinclair started Sinclair Radionics Ltd. in 1961, a few days before his 21st birthday.

It was in 1980, however, that Sinclair made his (unwitting) entry into gaming history. The Sinclair ZX80, his first home computer, ran at 3.25 MHz, had 1KB of RAM, was in black-and-white, had no sound, and sold 50,000 units at a mere £99.95 – which meant that the UK led the world in home computer ownership. The following year saw the updated Sinclair ZX81: and in 1982 the definitive model, the ZX Spectrum, was released.
The Spectrum was a revolution in home computing. With a colour display, rudimentary sound, and a much-maligned rubber keyboard, the “Speccy” sold for £99 in its most basic model and became widespread in homes and schools across Britain.

I would. (This, by the way, is Clive Sinclair)

The Sinclair computers were easy to program and a generation of “bedroom programmers” sprang up. Northern Irish developer David Perry described his first success in the games industry in a BBC interview.

“I sent a game I wrote to a magazine. I think it was a driving game, a black blob avoiding other black blobs. They printed it, and I was really happy.

"Then after I sent them some more games, a check for £450 came in the post. I was shocked, as I didn't even have a bank account. Just imagine how many sweets I was able to buy!”

From his bedroom, Perry went on to develop more games for the ZX Spectrum. After moving to the US, he formed his own company, Shiny Entertainment, in 1993. He went on to create the hugely successful multi-platform Earthworm Jim series, the critically-acclaimed MDK, and more recently two games based on the Matrix films, Enter The Matrix and Path of Neo.

The years following the release of the Spectrum saw an explosion in British games design. Matthew Smith developed the legendary platformer Manic Miner in just six weeks in 1983, and followed it up with Jet Set Willy in 1984. Both were true pioneers in platforming games, years ahead of the competition, and pushed the Spectrum to its limits with colourful graphics and in-game music – a first for the Spectrum.

Another Spectrum developer was Codemasters: a partnership of two brothers, Richard and David Darling, founded in 1985. Codemasters were popular for their low-price budget releases such as the Dizzy series, starring an anthropomorphic egg (and coincidentally coded by another pair of brothers, Philip and Andrew Oliver) and titles such as Advanced Pinball Simulator.

Over the next twenty years Codemasters rose to become the second biggest games publisher in the UK after Eidos, some of their more recent releases including DiRT and Clive Barker’s Jericho.

The Spectrum wasn’t the only home computer popular in Britain. The Amstrad CPC, Acorn’s BBC Micro (commissioned by the BBC to aid computer literacy, and widespread in schools), and the internationally popular, best-selling Commodore 64 were all common – and Ashby-de-la-Zouch-based developers Ultimate Play The Game coded for them all.

Ultimate Play The Game (usually shorterned to Ultimate) were founded in 1982 by yet another pair of British brothers, Tim and Chris Stamper, who had previously worked developing arcade games. Their first release as Ultimate was Jetpac on the Spectrum in 1983, a game involving a spaceman who must assemble a rocket and fuel it before blasting off to the next level. It was hugely successful, selling 300,000 copies to a market of about a million Spectrum owners. In the same year, Ultimate released Pssst, Tranz Am, and Jetpac sequel Lunar Jetman.

The following year, Ultimate released Sabre Wulf, an action adventure and the first game in the Sabreman series. Wasting no time, they released the sequels Underwurlde and Knight Lore in the same year. Knight Lore is notable for its isometric, 3D graphics engine dubbed “Filmation” by Ultimate, an innovation copied extensively by other publishers.

By the end of their second year, Ultimate had churned out eleven hit games on the Spectrum. The Stamper brothers’ high-quality, regular releases built up a huge fanbase in Britain, despite their media shyness.

But then everything changed. In 1984, the Stampers acquired the newest Japanese sensation: the Nintendo Famicom, a revolutionary 8-bit games console. Though it had been out in Japan for nearly a year, it would only reach the US and Europe in 1985 and 1986 respectively, renamed as the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES). Amazed by the potential, the Stampers soon diverted all their attention to it. In 1985, they sold the Ultimate name and back catalogue to Birmingham-based U.S. Gold, and abandoned the Spectrum for good. Having impressed Nintendo enough to receive a license to develop for the NES, they expanded their NES development into a full business. They called themselves Rare.

But more on them later.

This game is called Knight Lore and it is pink. Somewhere someone claims this to be their favourite game.

Following in the footsteps of MUD developers Trubshaw and Bartle were David Braben and Ian Bell, who met in 1982 as undergraduates at Cambridge University. Though they were each working independently on separate games, they decided to collaborate to write a game for the BBC Micro. It was released in 1984 as Elite, and quickly went down in video gaming history.

Elite places the player in a small, lightly armed spacecraft, 100 credits, a rating of “Mostly Harmless”, and a universe of 2,048 planets to explore. Players can travel from space station to space station, buying goods such as food, machinery, and minerals at a low price in one region and selling them for a profit in another. Alternatively, they can sign up for military missions, collect bounties, mine asteroids, or conduct piracy on merchants.
There is no goal in the game. Players can choose their own objective in the game universe: to achieve a level of “Elite”, to accumulate wealth, to put together the most powerful spacecraft. This sort of freeform, complex, non-linear gameplay was completely novel at the time and even today remains a holy grail for game designers.

Elite was not the first game in the space-trading genre, but it was far more expansive than any previous efforts and featured revolutionary 3D graphics. It sold 150,000 copies for the BBC Micro alone, and was eventually ported to 12 other platforms (including the Spectrum).

For many years, developers tried to create the next Elite. David Braben himself made a successful attempt in 1993 with Frontier, developed by his company Frontier Developments, but the sequel First Encounters was bugged and failed miserably. More recently, Microsoft’s Freelancer was a success, along with Egosoft’s X series. Elite has been taken to its logical conclusion with EVE Online, a massively multiplayer online space trading simulation where the players themselves determine the flucuations of the market economy. But these games all owe their existence to the work of two university students twenty years prior.

In 1991 a remake was released, called Elite Plus. It was programmed by one Chris Sawyer, who we’ll get back to later.

By the end of the 80s, the British games industry was in a transition. The Spectrum, never that powerful in the first place, was being increasingly outclassed by newer machines such as the Amiga 500, the Acorn Archimedes, and the IBM PC. Dedicated games machines like Nintendo’s NES and Sega’s Master System were increasingly popular, too. The stage was set for a new burst of creativity.

This is Elite. Fear it, for in some quarters it is labelled as a God.